The Miracle of US Counter Intelligence in Afghanistan

Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:

The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies.

Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry.

Rory Stewart in the NYRB. (read the whole thing)

The Progressive Ideology and finance

One of the most consistent and loudest and falsest “criticisms from the left” of the Obama Administration has been that it failed to properly punish and re-regulate the financial sector. The criticism is usually heavily made up in populist cosmetics:  Main Street versus Wall Street, the 99% versus the 1%,  oligarchs versus the people - that kind of stuff.  The substance of the critique, however, is conservative and elitist and it confirms an insight of a pair of German sociologists from the 1800s about how ideas become entrenched in our consciousness. They wrote:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force

Our society is ruled by financiers and  our ideas are suffused with financial concepts, values, and slogans. We inhabit a mental world in which “shareholder value”, “business model”, “market value”,  “liquidity” , and other terms of the art are ubiquitous even when we don’t really understand what they are supposed to mean. And in this shared world view, finance is the center of the universe. Our two Victorian age critics went on to say:

The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.

We are not just automatons but it is damn hard to think outside the box. This was true for the authors I am quoting far more than they realized, and it is  still true even if you are a really smart professor at Brooklyn College or Harvard or write for The Nation or Harpers and you have books by Zizek on your very own bookshelf and immediately recognized the much cited but rarely understood quote I’m basing this article on. Even if you don’t watch cable TV and have a vest and charming goatee you are, like us miserable peasants, subject to the ideas of the dominant class. The logic of finance and the stories of finance are all around us, we grow up in this environment and it affects and limits how we think. That’s why the “left” critics of the Obama administration, generally not the sharpest knives in the drawer, agreed with their right wing counterparts that finance, specifically banking, is what matters. They look up and see that the right and the (boo, hiss) neoliberals advocated deregulating finance and they then conclude that re-regulating finance is the correct party line.

Just for a moment, let’s think about “re-regulating banking” as a program for left-wing reform.  What a piss poor, timid and pitiful effort. We’ve had years and years now of the whole left-liberal spectrum attempting to rally the masses to proposals like “re-institute Glass-Steagall” or “prosecute bankers”. How embarrassing.  We end up with a bizarre situation where the aim of strident left-wing rhetoric is to extoll the economic and social system of the USA in the good old days before the neoliberals dismantled  New Deal banking regulation. You know, the 1950s, when things were great for regular people - apparently this means first world white men (Whoops! Could it be that the racist and sexist ideas of the dominant class also influence our super enlightened political commissar class? Perish the thought).

Maybe we could be really adventurous and think about perhaps alternatives to the system where private banking, regulated or not, controls investment. In that case, we might pay more attention to effects of the stimulus bill (which funded, among other things, an electric car industry), the reorganization of the auto industry, the health care reform, and other Obama administration efforts which might, if we are lucky, serve to lessen the control finance exerts on society. Or not. We could just stick to our cardboard cutout model of the world and write indignant screeds to Salon about how the Obama Administration was disappointing us.

Here’s the rest of the paragraph from Karl Marx and Fred Engels, who were smart people, tragically limited by the Victorian Age in which they lived. But this was a good insight.

The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an “eternal law.”

Nice work boys, too bad your political ideas were junk and your economics was imperialist.

Why don’t progressives care about labor unions?

Thomas Frank’s interview with Elizabeth Warren includes Warren attempting to balance praise for the President with a completely false critique that is a staple of the Professional Disappointed Left.

[Warren] When I think about the president, for me, it’s about both halves. If Barack Obama had not been president of the United States we would not have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Period. […] At the same time, he picked his economic team and when the going got tough, his economic team picked Wall Street.

You might say, “always.” Just about every time they had to compromise, they compromised in the direction of Wall Street.

That’s right. They protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over. So I see both of those things and they both matter.

When the Obama administration rescued the auto industry and the UAW, Wall Street absolutely insisted that bondholders who had irresponsibly financed the worthless managements of both GM and Chrysler must get 100% back. That did not happen.  The shareholders were wiped out. The bondholders suffered, as they should have, massive losses. The Obama Administration used the savings to wipe out the debts of GM and Chrysler and to save the UAW pension/health fund. None of this is secret and the right wing has bitched about it non-stop since the moment it happened. The “left”, however, doesn’t give a damn about a million jobs, the security of GM and Chrysler retirees and the unions.  This example is not the only one of Obama’s economic team battling on behalf of working people, but it is the most revealing - about the Progressives and “the left” and what they think is important. The “left” in the United States is a creepy group of narcissists who think everything is about them, their pet issues, and their feelings. Elizabeth Warren lost a lot of credibility in my eyes, when she bought into their story.